Kicking The Educational Hornets Nest
I’m upset. I know what I’m about to write is going to annoy some people and I’m sorry, but something has to be said.
I am in the process of deciding to which secondary school our twins will go next year. To this end, yesterday I attended an open day of one of the potential schools in our area.
The experience was, quite frankly, shocking.
I took a few photos (such as the one above) and texted them to the wife with the message ‘How does this look?’
Her reply was ‘A prison’.
A prison pretty much nailed it.
Seriously. The tour was topped by a presentation given by the school director with the energy and enthusiasm of a mortuary. It was excruciatingly dull.
This school is broken.
It is supposed to be a centre of learning, where students willingly go to gain the knowledge and skills needed for the real world. If this institution was anything to go by, the world outside would be a Kafkaesque place where your main task is to do as you’re told, shut up and blend in.
And if the director addresses the parents of potential students in such a mumbling monotone way, how does he address a class of real students?
One of my coaching clients is diagnosed as having ADHD disorder. He finds it difficult to concentrate and gets anxious in class. If I had to spend 6 hours in that place, every day of the week, I think I’d have anxiety problems, too. It was frighteningly awful. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to eliminate any sort of personality from the place - the drab colours, the total absence of any sort of decoration, the suffocating uniformity.
I felt so uncomfortable and I’m not exaggerating.
In architecture we teach how buildings should be beautiful.
In psychology we teach how people are influenced by their surroundings.
In Sociology we teach how individuals crave recognition and being part of a supportive tribe.
All of this was torn up and put in the bin by the decision makers running this school. The lack of free expression and individuality was deafening. The only decoration were A4 sheets stuck to the wall with lists of rules.
My job takes me to many schools, most are full of positive energy. But I also recognise there is a selection bias. Any school that invites me as a speaker, cares enough about their students to make the effort. I don’t get invited to speak in these kinds of schools, my message of developing personal learning strategies would be tantamount to heresy.
You might be tempted to erroneously suppose (as I once did) that these schools are in deprived areas. But no. I’ve been in schools with limited resources in the rougher areas and although they’re not perfect places, they do their best with what they have and many succeed.
Surprisingly, the school I visited is in one of the prosperous parts of the city.
In spite of the fact that many schools make the effort to provide a welcoming place of learning, it's sad to discover that Dickensian institutions still exist. Someone intentionally chose to make this place look like a penitentiary centre. This is disgraceful.
Schools should be for the benefit of the students, not for the convenience of bureaucrats.
Schools should feel like places of learning, not places of punishment.
Schools should support the students as individuals not try to wring individuality out of them them.
These are not unreasonable objectives.
But sometimes, if you’re in an institution for too long, you become institutionalised. You stop seeing the wood for the trees. You become immune to frustrated, uninspired and anxious students because ‘it’s normal’.
So if you’re in the education sector, take several paces back and try to view your place of learning from a distance. If it projects a positive image, if the students turn up willingly, if it embraces each of them for what they are: sentient beings with their own feelings and needs, well done! I salute you and those who have achieved it (because I’m the first to admit, it’s not easy).
But if it looks like a prison, if it feels like a prison, maybe that’s because it is and maybe it’s time to do something about it.